Curtis Prairie

Monarch on sweet black-eyed Susan (Photo: Susan Carpenter)

Monarch on sweet black-eyed Susan (Photo: Susan Carpenter)

If you enjoy the fragrance of flowers and like the color yellow, I encourage you to visit the Arboretum prairies and native gardens now. They are beautiful with more than 45 different kinds of plants in bloom. Various shades of yellow flowers are blooming profusely. There are plenty of purple and white blooms as well.

It is mid-August. Pretty flowers and grasses perfume the air with scents of vanilla, mint, chocolate, anise, onion, cumin, buttered popcorn, raindrops on dusty soil, and more. Insect musicians fill the air with rhythmic chanting, chirping, tinkling, trilling, humming, and buzzing. Butterflies nectar on flowers and dragonflies dart after mosquitoes. Beware, there are hoards of annoying mosquitoes. About 25 different kinds can be found in the Arboretum!

During the tour this afternoon, we saw the following yellow flowers in bloom: ox-eye (Heliopolis helianthoides), compass-plant (Silphium laciniatum), prairie dock (S. terebinthinaceum), cup-plant (S. perfoliatum), rosinweed (S. integrifolium), Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), Misssouri goldenrod (S. missourensis), grass-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia), rough-leaved sunflower (Helianthus strumosus), yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) and three kinds of Rudbeckia.

The different rudbeckias can be confusing because they look similar, with yellow petals (ray flowers) and dark purple-brown or reddish-brown centers (disk flowers). However, we identified black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), sweet black-eyed Susan, also called sweet coneflower (R. subtomentosa), and brown-eyed Susan (R. triloba). Other common names for brown-eyed Susans are three-lobed coneflower, branched coneflower, or thin-leaved coneflower. There is a fourth rudbeckia but we did not find, R. laciniata. Common names include cut-leaved coneflower, tall coneflower, goldlen-glow, and green-headed coneflower. Did you notice how many common names are used for the same plant?

A visitor asked why we use difficult scientific (Latin or Greek) names. “Every plant has a scientific name that identifies it and places it in the family or genus to which it belongs despite common names. The scientific name always comes in two parts (binomial system) with the first part (always capitalized) denoting the genus and the second (always lowercase) the species. The main point of Latin and Greek names is to enable scientists to communicate internationally and nationally without any possibility of confusion.” (From the book Birdscapes by Jeremy Mynott).

Scientific names can be helpful for non-scientists as well. People from different parts of Wisconsin and other parts of the U.S. use many different common names for the same plant, and the same common name can be used for many different species, thus causing confusion.

For many people, it does not matter whether a rudbeckia is a black-eyed Susan or brown-eyed Susan or a three-lobed coneflower. What is important is to be curious while enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells that await you when you visit this very special Arboretum.

Many books and Google can be used for identification purposes. I strongly recommend two excellent books for identifying plants in our area. Prairie Plants of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum, by Ted Cochrane, Kandis Elliot, and Claudia Lipke, and Wild Flowers of Wisconsin, by Meryl Black and E. Judziewicz.

The following is my 2017 Bluebird report that I will send to the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin:

  • No. of boxes used: 15
  • Boxes used by Bluebirds: 6
  • Bluebirds eggs laid: 50
  • Bluebird eggs hatched: 32
  • Bluebirds fledged: 18 (14 babies died and 18 eggs disappeared)
  • Tree Swallows fledged: 38
  • House Wrens fledged: 20

—Sylvia Marek